Employee assistance programs (EAPs) are valuable resources that remain underused.

For some employees, there may be a stigma attached to using this service. Historically, EAP counseling has primarily served as a resource for people with substance abuse problems or serious mental health issues. Employees who don’t fall into these categories (or who don’t want anyone to find out that they do) are likely to eschew EAP counseling.

Education is a large piece of any strong benefits program, and educating employees about things such as EAPs is critical.

Employees Don’t Know It Exists or How It Works

In many organizations, EAP counselors are housed offsite. Increasingly, employers provide EAP services through the use of outside vendors. While this helps ensure privacy and confidentiality, it also makes these services largely invisible.

One way to educated is to have EAP providers to come regularly to a facility and present brown-bag lunch sessions on EAP-related topics that resonate with a wide range of employees (pet loss, smoking cessation, coping with depression, death of a family member, etc.).

Employees aren’t the only ones who don’t understand what the EAP is and how it works. Many HR professionals are often equally uninformed.

It’s hard to advocate for a resource that you don’t understand or appreciate.

HR professionals who are unfamiliar with their organization’s EAP connect with colleagues in other companies who have those services to see what’s been successful for them.

Recent data shows:

  • Over 95 percent of companies with more than 5,000 employees have EAPs.
  • 80 percent of companies with 1,001 to 5,000 employees have EAPs.
  • 75 percent of companies with 251 to 1,000 employees have EAPs.n

Confidentiality Concerns

Employees may be reluctant to seek EAP counseling because they don’t want their employers to know they’re having problems.

HR and other company stakeholders need to continually remind employees that EAP services are completely confidential. Counselors do not report back to the organization, and there is no external record of the counseling sessions.

There is no need for employees to tell anyone. They don’t need to ask permission, go through HR channels, or do anything other than contact the EAP and make an appointment.

There can also be financial advantages for employees to use EAP services that workers may not be aware of. Because EAP counseling services are free to employees, there aren’t any co-pays or deductibles. EAP counselors are also equipped to deal with categories of problems that health plans won’t cover.

The E-Counseling Solution (Telehealth)

E-counseling, also known as “tele-psychology,” frequently involves tele-counseling or video-counseling.

E-counseling also offers a practical alternative to employees who can’t make it to a counselor’s office for any number of logistical reasons.

Technology can help overcome barriers that hinder access to conventional face-to-face services, such as transportation, accessibility, scheduling conflicts and perceptions of stigma.

Video-counseling is also on the rise.

“Video-counseling is better than tele-counseling because you get some of the benefits of seeing the person,” said Albrecht, who stressed the importance of using up-to-date computers and cameras.

Counseling typically lasts about three to six sessions. If a problem is more severe or requires longer-term treatment, most EAPs maintain a referral network that employees can access. In those cases, EAP counselors can identify and assess the situation to determine the best way to deal with the problem.

Does It Work?

Companies use EAPs because doing so makes good business sense. When organizations invest in the well-being of their employees, the organization benefits as well. When employees are under stress as a result of personal or professional problems, their productivity and performance suffer. This can negatively impact an organization’s bottom line.

Stress has been called the “health epidemic of the 21st century” by the World Health Organization. Nearly half of all workers suffer from moderate to severe stress while on the job, and 66 percent of employees report that they have difficulty focusing on tasks at work because of stress. This is estimated to cost U.S. employers nearly $300 billion a year.

In another survey of 2,500 employees, respondents reported that stress interfered with concentration and focus, caused them to make errors and miss deadlines, and undermined relationships with co-workers and bosses.

EAP services can help employees manage their stress. Speaking strictly in dollars and cents, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that “all of the published studies indicate that EAPs are cost-effective.” And the U.S. Department of Labor reports that for every dollar invested in an EAP, employers generally save anywhere from $5 to $16.